- Many legal experts have said the indictment against Donald Trump is far from a slam dunk.
- Even some left-leaning publications seem to agree that the case will be tough for prosecutors.
- Trump was charged by a Manhattan grand jury with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
When the New York “hush-money” indictment against Donald Trump was finally revealed on Tuesday, many legal experts agreed it didn’t appear to be an airtight, slam-dunk case from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
And even among left-leaning publications like New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, The New Republic, and Vox, there seems to be a growing consensus that the case against the former president is going to be tough for prosecutors to win.
Trump was charged by a Manhattan grand jury with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in an indictment related to hush-money payments to two women, including porn star Stormy Daniels, before the 2016 presidential election.
In a statement of facts filed alongside the indictment, prosecutors allege that from August 2015 to December 2017, Trump “orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit” Trump’s “electoral prospects.”
However, Trump is not being charged with election law violations or conspiracy, and legal experts say the underlying crime that Trump is accused of committing — which would justify upgrading the charges against him from misdemeanors to felonies — is strikingly missing from the indictment.
The Manhattan DA’s office declined to comment for this story, instead referring to Bragg’s comments on Tuesday after the arraignment in which he told reporters: “These are felony crimes in New York state, no matter who you are. We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct.”
Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote in an Intelligencer piece that Bragg’s prosecution stemmed from his political status and that “we are holding more social and political weight on these charges than they can bear.”
“Even if you assume that the public had some important right to know about Trump’s affairs, campaign-finance laws are neither designed nor intended to enforce that right,” Chait wrote.
In a Vox article, senior correspondent Ian Millhiser pointed out that there is “something painfully anticlimactic” about the indictment against Trump.
“And there’s a very real risk that this indictment will end in an even bigger anticlimax,” Millhiser wrote. “It is unclear that the felony statute that Trump is accused of violating actually applies to him.”
Bragg, the Democratic district attorney, “built his case on an exceedingly uncertain legal theory” and that even if Trump did what Bragg alleges “it’s not clear Bragg can legally charge Trump for them” under the charges brought against Trump, Millhiser wrote.
The New Republic published a piece headlined — “Why Alvin Bragg’s Hush-Money Case Against Trump Will Be Tricky to Win” and noted that the more serious falsifying business records in the first degree is a more difficult crime to establish.
However, not all outlets were so pessimistic about the case.
The Nation’s justice correspondent Elie Mystal said in his article that falsifying business records “is what prosecutors get you for when they don’t have anything else.”
But he added that “Bragg’s specific case—that Trump falsified business records—is strong, and, it would appear, is backed up by ample documentary evidence.”
A New York Times opinion piece by Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former Manhattan chief assistant district attorney, and Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, took a much different tone.
“We Finally Know the Case Against Trump, and It Is Strong,” read its headline.
The article went on to say: “With the release of the indictment and accompanying statement of facts, we can now say that there’s nothing novel or weak about this case.”
MSNBC’s Joyce Vance called the indictment “strong prosecutorial tradecraft” that leaves openings for prosecutors to justify the felony charges using multiple crimes, including election and tax violations.
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast’s Shan Wu called the DA’s bare-bones indictment a “strategically crafted” document that’ll confound Trump’s lawyers as they try to poke holes in the case.
“In the short run, the spare style of the indictment deprives Trump’s legal team of specifics to attack from both factual and legal angles,” Wu wrote in praising the possible strategy.